Summary: This is a paper on the relationships between the parable of the lost sheep, coin, and prodigal son. It looks at common theme and whether the parables should be taken as one extended parable.
Lost Sheep, Coin, and Son, Three Parables or One
Parables of Jesus
By: Bruce P. Landry
I. What are the Three Parables?
The parables in Luke Chapter 15 are really great parables to teach us the value of things that we are placed in stewardship over, and where we should place our efforts. In the case of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7) we see the Shepherd leave the ninety-nine and seek after the one until he finds it and upon finding it he rejoices greatly. Similarly we see in the parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) the widow who losses her coin with single-minded purpose pursues her coin throughout her abode until she finds it. When she finds it she is so overjoyed she calls her friends to celebrate with her for her good fortune. Lastly, in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) we see a Father who gives his all to his son, allowing him to do things no son should nor do to his father. The Father loves his son and as the son goes out and losses his estate and finds himself dejected and in poverty finally coming to his senses he returns. His Father sees him while he is still far away which indicates the Father was hoping and praying that he would come to his sense and return. The Father puts off all facades of dignity and honor and runs to his son while he is yet far away. Coming to his son, the Father falls on his neck and kisses him and calls his servants to bring the best robe in the house and a ring—restoring to him the honor and place which the son had rightfully lost. The Father knows that this son that was lost was found and there was great value in the one that was lost being found.
We can easily see that the tree parables have common concepts and deal with something lost that we are taught is of great value, greater value than our common minds would place on these lost sheep, coin, and son.
II. What is a parable?
A parable is a word picture that uses an image or story to illustrate a truth or lesson. It creates a mini-drama in picture language that describes the reality being illustrated. It shows a likeness between the image of an illustration and the object being portrayed. It defines the unknown by using the known. It helps the listener to discover the deeper meaning and underlying truth of the reality being portrayed. It can be a figure of speech or comparison, such as "the kingdom of God ..is like a mustard seed ..or like yeast" (Luke 13:19, 21).
More commonly it is a short story told to bring out a lesson or moral. Jesus used simple stories or images to convey important truths about God and his kingdom, and lessons pertaining to the way of life and happiness which God intends for us. They commonly feature examples or illustrations from daily life in ancient Palestine, such as mustard seeds and fig trees, wineskins and oil lamps, money and treasure, stewards, workers, judges, and homemakers, wedding parties and children’s games. Jesus’ audience would be very familiar with these illustrations of everyday life. Today we have to do some "homework" to understand the social customs described.
Jesus’ parables have a double meaning. First, there is the literal meaning, apparent to anyone who has experience with the subject matter. But beyond the literal meaning lies a deeper meaning -- a beneath-the-surface lesson about God’s truth and his kingdom. For example, the parable of the leaven (see Matthew 13:33) describes the simple transformation of dough into bread by the inclusion of the yeast. In like manner, we are transformed by God’s kingdom when we allow his word and Spirit to take root in our hearts. And in turn we are called to be leaven that transforms the society in which we live and work. Jerome, an early church father and biblical scholar remarked: "The marrow of a parable is different from the promise of its surface, and like as gold is sought for in the earth, the kernel in a nut and the hidden fruit in the prickly covering of chestnuts, so in parables we must search more deeply after the divine meaning."
Jesus’ parables often involve an element of surprise or an unexpected twist, a matter of hyperbole. The original audience was taken off guard by the progression of the story and when we study them properly we also should be taken off guard. The parable moves from the very familiar and understandable aspects of every day Early Near Eastern experience to a sudden turn of events or a remarkable comparison that challenges the hearer and invites further reflection.